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AG: Grand jury probing use of pepper spray at Wyatt protest

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Attorney General Peter Neronha says the grand jury investigating the incident in which a truck driver went into a crowd of protestors outside the Wyatt Detention Center last month is looking at the actions of the driver as well as the use of pepper spray by correctional officers.

“To me there are really two things we are looking at, one is the operation of the vehicle and the other one is the deployment of pepper spray,” Neronha said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “Should [the spray] have been deployed, what are the right circumstances – I’m speaking very broadly now – so those are the questions we will be asking ourselves and asking the grand jurors to consider.”

On Aug. 19, a truck driven by then-Wyatt Captain Thomas Woodworth pushed into protestors that were blocking a parking lot to the prison, according to video from witnesses.

The truck stopped and honked at the protesters — from Never Again Action, an activist group — before continuing to drive forward. Several Wyatt officers were seen on video misting the crowd with what appears to be pepper spray after asking them to move away from the truck.

Woodworth resigned days after the incident.

Shortly after, Neronha announced an investigation and said he was having a grand jury review the evidence.

“I’m a big believer in taking your time when you have time, and we clearly have time here,” Neronha said. “I think we’re going to turn this around pretty quickly in comparison to other grand jury investigations I’ve had over my career. But that’s probably why it takes more than some people would otherwise expect.”

He said there should be findings within a month.

Asked why he wasn’t looking at whether protestors should be charged for blocking access, Neronha said that would have been the role of the Central Falls Police, who took a hands-off approach that night.

“Certainly those folks could have been taken into custody or arrested, some of them probably expected that,” Neronha said. “But once law enforcement steps back and says, ‘That’s not the action we’re going to take,’ then I don’t think there is any reason from a practical perspective to look at [the protestor’s] conduct.” 

Neronha said he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” the decision by police, but “if they would self-reflect maybe they would do it differently if they had to do it again.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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